The Karioi Cycle Classic is a (mostly) gravel road ride from Raglan south along the Whaanga Coast and back on inland roads. It has 43km, 57km or 85km options, which all follow the same route out of Raglan, with different return routes from the coast.
I have driven the Whaanga Coast road before and it is literally world famous as a stage in the WRC Rally NZ. The chance to explore this area on a bicycle was not to be missed. I decided to make it a long weekend so could watch the Hungarian Grand Prix (which starts at midnight Sunday NZ time) and sleep in the next day.
It was my first time for this ride so I chose the middle 57km option and took my hardtail mountain bike. Last time I drove the road—albeit years ago—it was quite muddy, corrugated and thought weeks of rain would have churned it up.
When I saw the 87km peloton go past (as I left my motel headed for our start) I was glad I had not joined them as looked like rather serious racers. Although technically in a race I wasn’t going to be racing, just happy to enjoy the road, the scenery and get around within the 4 hour time limit.
I drove down from Auckland on Saturday and checked into the Raglan Palm Beach Motel. It is a bit out of ‘town’, by the estuary, and secluded without being far away. It bills itself as “classic 1970’s “Kiwiana” style self-contained Raglan accommodation” and it was great. Although evidently of that era it was clean, tidy and (with a non-70s heat pump) warm which would become an important factor!
After settling in I biked into town (a whole 1.8km with no traffic via the domain and footbridge) to pick up my race number (tied on with supplied eco-flax instead of plastic cable ties!) and get some groceries. Rather stupidly I had not put one of my many bike water bottles in the car (doh!) so a bottle of sport water had to do.
On the way back I diverted a few km up the road to the coast to check the bike (and rider) were ok for the morning. It was a spectacular sunset; not often you see the Tasman Sea this calm!
Quite a few people were already there and I wasn’t the only one on a bike. A couple had CX bikes, similar to the Avanti I’d left at home, a sign of things to come.
Late Saturday evening I watched the F1 Qualifying, with Ferrari getting the front row! The motel didn’t have Sky but good Wi-Fi meant streaming was OK—beamed to the TV from my phone via my Microsoft Display adapter (like Chromecast but works with any app)—on the Sky Go app. It used to be terrible but worked well keeping me connected to F1 over the weekend.
A bit too much coffee, Whitakers 70% chocolate and, maybe, anticipation of the day ahead meant when I finally turned off the telly about 1:30am I didn’t get much sleep!
A fine ‘Race’ day
The morning dawned fine, still and literally (for a soft northerner) freezing. My phone’s reported “2ºc, feels like 0ºc” was no lie based on the layer of ice on the motel picnic table and kayaks!
It’s the first time I’ve worn a 200 Icebreaker merino thermal top, from the Tibet cycle wardrobe, under a cycle shirt all day in New Zealand!
Leggings, winter gloves and merino liners inside Sealskin, water/windproof, socks and a light wind/rainshell kept the cold at bay on the way into town for the start!
I started at the back of the 84 rider 57km pack. I wasn’t going to be racing and don’t really like riding in the middle of a group. The first few km out of town, with well traffic controlled but still open roads, were led by a pilot vehicle before we got the closed gravel roads.
The first climb was steady and no wind meant had to shed the wind-shell at the top as was getting too warm. The views were just stunning, full credit to whoever organised this weather after weeks of rain!
As the photos show the road was really good! I should have put my CX bike in the car!
The course follows the coast before heading inland. It was a real joy, and a first for me, riding on closed gravel roads. You could pick a line that best suited the heavily cambered corners without the worry of meeting a car coming the other way!
I remember standing on this corner (below) watching rally cars blasting past, having seen them come all the way up (or down depending which year) the valley from the coast. It is a great place to watch rally cars at speeds much faster than Robin on a bike could manage!
First sign of Raglan in the distance but this wasn’t the last hill. My Strava app recorded 1267m elevation gain over the day. By now it was reasonably warm but I couldn’t be bothered shedding the thermal as it was mostly downhill to the finish.
I was evidently happy to see that it was all downhill from this photo stop. The riders in the background are from the 43km event, all but a few of the 57’ers were ahead of me!
Some snaps from the finish and a packed prize giving later in Raglan. No prizes for me (81/84) but the ride had more than met my expectations.
Exploring the way home
After staying up until 02:30am Monday again watching the Hungarian Grand Prix I appreciated the motels offer of a late checkout. I was in no rush to get home so took a rather indirect route exploring the back roads between Raglan & Port Waikato. If I have been through there before I can’t remember it!
A mix of twisty sealed and smooth swept gravel (apart for a few km in the middle of being graded) made for a lovely drive. It would also be a great ride; maybe next year I should ride down to the ride!
Although a few clouds had arrived the weather was still great. Being a work Monday meant the roads, beach and river were largely deserted. A great way to finish a stunning weekend.
No Of Finishers
|1st Male||1st Female|
|Classic XL 57km||84||01:58:38||02:26:56|
|Me 57km Bike No 149||81/84 overall||03:19:21|